Ready Your Wrangler for Multi-Day Adventure

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So, you wanna hit the trails for more than a day, huh? Call it an expedition, even? Good for you.

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I’ve being doing so for several years now, despite all the mistakes I’ve made along the way. And maybe you have a nice long list of things to take: a big heap of recovery gear, all sorts of spare hoses, belts, tie rod ends, and other parts along with some oil, a tool kit, assorted topographical maps, a GPS, a guide book, cooking equipment, a tent and sleeping bags, plenty of food for each day and night, 10 gallons of water, extra clothing, a change of shoes, a fishing pole and tackle, and don’t forget the kitchen sink. Take a deep breath, and think: Where are you going to put all that stuff in a Wrangler? In that little shoebox-sized hole between the rear door and backseat?

For my first multi-day trip, I called my friend Russ and told him that we were going to do a long trip on Forest Road 1 in the Tonto National Forest and spend three days exploring the area. He’d just bought his Rubicon, and most people remind me that I was just a maniacal kid without a single shred of experience. We piled equipment and food on top of my back seat with no organization at all:
it turned into a delicate  mound of incomplete gear that plopped over as we turned onto the trail. Russ had to remove the backseat in his Rubicon to make room for firewood, and he simply put his food on the passenger seat. Doritos on top, 24 cans of Mountain Dew on the bottom.

“What? It’s not like I have a woman coming along” he defended. I couldn’t resist:

“You could at least tempt the universe, dude!”

We had one beer-stained map between the two of us. We didn’t bring a single spare hose or belt, let alone a single tool beyond a screwdriver…which was somewhere. And we didn’t have a clue where the road would go. But I think we did have a tow strap. “This,” we declared, “is adventure!” Oh the fine line between adventure and youthful idiocy…this, my first foray into expedition travel.

Good news: since then I’ve undertaken countless other multi-day off road adventures and I’ve learned a thing or two. Over these years, I’ve come across some fantastic storage and organizational solutions from other Wrangler owners. Here are some solid ideas for getting the most out of the OEM space, and gaining some more for the gear and equipment you want to haul on a multi-day trip: Racks – this is obvious. See my own Jeep here. I have two aftermarket products: a Mountaineer rack by Olympic 4×4, and a trail rack mounted on the tire swing out bumper system by Garvin. After installing the Mountaineer rack, I was rather concerned about not having the backseat for the times I wasn’t hauling gear. However, my worries were buried when a guy in an XJ at a stop light rolled down his window, turned off Metallica on his radio and waved at me.

“Dude!” He yelled, giving me a thumbs up. “That thing is friggin’ cool. Where’d you get it?”

So, if one person had such emphatic approval about that rack I figured there has to be others. So long backseat. The rack is cool.

More importantly, though, it’s helped streamline our packing process. Our ice chest and a large lidded bin for the camping equipment fits perfectly under the rack, with a little space between for a small tool kit. Then the rack provides a nice shelf to stack other equipment and bins, and it also has 6 eyebolts for securing everything down. It’s a very clever system.

On our single-day trips and trail rides, we often have the top down and the bikini on. Since we don’t need as much stuff with us, the rack is perfect for the ice chest where we can get to it without opening the back door, or unloading anything else. Time and time again, the rack demonstrates one of the single best improvements I’ve made to the Jeep.

The other rack option is attached to my spare tire gate, which is a part of the aftermarket bumper made by Garvin. This system won the debate in my head between a roof rack or a trail rack for its killing-two-birds-with-one-stone aspect: one stone got me an pgraded bumper with receiver and clevis mounts, and another storage rack.

While the rack is small, it does the job just right. Too much weight up there could be problematic anyway. Most often, we just load it with the camping chairs, which are kind of awkwardly shaped and one of the last things we remember to load. And this rack is just the right size and anything loaded in it is easy to access.

The swing gate incorporates mounting positions for an ax, a shovel, and spare gas/water cans – other items that are smart to carry on an extended trail.

A friend of ours, Steve Bisig, went a step further with his organization on the inside of his YJ. He built a fantastic box with a large subdivided drawer. He made sure to construct a rigid top that’s protected with industrial carpet so he could load other items on top and also secure them down with strong stainless steel eyebolts. The craftsmanship is unmatched and the design is well thought out to include heavy-duty drawer slides and compartments on the side that get accessed through hinged panels. See how he neatly organizes his Jeep for a long weekend of adventure and trail driving.

The nice thing about the drawer system is that when he opens the rear door, he can access anything in box without unloading a single thing – he simply opens the rear door and slides the drawers out. Additionally, he can pack tools, jumper cables, extra hoses and belts in these drawers and leave them in there all the time due to the secure nature of his box. Steve’s arrangement is slick and smart.

Now that I’ve shown you several methods that come at the price of the backseat, here is one of the latest crazes that allows you to  keep it: trailers. Uh, yeah, seriously…I’m not kidding. For the disbelieving reader, I had a chance to rap out with two friends (Justin Pitcairn of Southern California and Steven Curren of Tuscon, Arizona) who each own a Chaser trailer made by Adventure Trailers. You ought to be impressed by what they had to say.

JPFreek: Why did you choose to get a trailer instead of something else? Such as a roof rack?

Justin Pitcarn: Several reasons 1) I have an incredible roof rack right now but it just will not carry all of my gear because of reason number two.

2) I now have two young boys ages 1 and 3.
3) As far as other vehicles I enjoy the open experience too much to be confined.
4) The Adventure Trailers Chaser is incredible. Once I took all of the weight out of the Jeep my ride quality went up 10 fold. I no longer bottom out the rear springs.

Steven Curren: I purchased the Chaser for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted a vehicle I could pack and leave in the garage ready to go out when I wanted and not take the time to load up. Secondly, I wanted to have a vehicle I could leave in camp while I took the Jeep out exploring and doing trails. Also, the height of a rooftop tent was a negative because of tree branches on the trail and wind resistance on the highway.

JPFreek: How do you like pulling it over technical terrain? How well have you adapted to pulling it on trails?

Justin Pitcarn: Well first off let me say this: I have never pulled a trailer in my life. This is a new experience. As for pulling the Adventure Trailers Chaser it is a dream. Hook it up and forget it. 40 mph down a corrugated road? No problem. Technical stuff? Just look back and enjoy the view…this trailer will do it. Learning to back it up took me a couple of tries. This Chaser has made easy trails interesting again. Plus you have the bonus of pulling over and having a king size bed and a cold refrigerator.

Steven Curren: The Chaser pulled very well over the rough trails we were on. I did have the Jeep in low range for the Point Sublime trail at Grand Canyon and did not really notice the Chaser behind me. This is the first trailer I have owned or pulled and I find it easy to pull as well as back up. I had never backed up a trailer before I picked up the Chaser from Adventure Trailers and I found it easy to do so. I feel very confident in pulling the trailer off road and look forward to more trails and outings with the Chaser.

JPFreek: Where have you taken it, and what other trips do you have in mind for the future with the Jeep/trailer combo?

Justin Pitcarn: So far the Jeep/trailer combo has been on 2 trips to Anza Borrego Desert. I have pulled it through everything I can find out there in the Bad Lands. Next trips include Mexico, Baja 1000 to watch, and I am sure we will be back to the desert soon.

Steven Curren: Other than a quick trip to the local mountains, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is the only place the Chaser has been so far. I am taking it out to the area near Blythe, California next month and I am planning with a few others to do trips in California and Arizona.

JPFreek: What Jeep do you have, and why did you purchase it instead of something else?

Justin Pitcarn: I am currently driving a 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a 2006 Adventure Trailer Chaser. Well, like many have said before it is a Jeep Thing. I love the ability to change up the vehicle; meaning I can remove the doors, top, and lower the windshield. This has always kept me interested in my Jeep. I also take full advantage of the open-air environment when ever possible. There is really no other vehicle that can compare. Past vehicles have included a 1997 Jeep TJ and a 1998 Hummer H1. The previous Jeep was sold after 6 years primarily to build up the new and improved Rubicon. The Hummer was an outstanding vehicle to drive and the Hummer club had incredible people. The two problems with the Hummer for me was the lack of visibility and the constant maintenance. Sold the Hummer four years later after the warranty was up.

Steven Curren: I have a 2005 Rubicon Unlimited with a number of modifications. I had an H2 but soon found it a bit large for the trails here as well as for my garage, I have owned a Jeep in the past and liked the off road performance. On my current one, I have a 3” Terra Flex lift with 5100 Bilstein shocks, 33×12.5 BFGoodrich MTs, sliders from Nth Mobility front and rear and custom made sliders. A Body Armor front bumper with an 8000 lb winch and a 4WD rear bumper and tire swing, 7” fender flares, sway bar disconnects, bikini top and half doors. I also have two Sparco seats and full harnesses with a sport cage and a Gibson cat back system. I am in the progress of installing a TeraFlex belly up skid as well as a 1” body lift.

JPFreek: Finally guys, what are your impressions about the trailer and Jeep combination?

Justin Pitcarn: It just works. With the trailer you can now put people in the back seat, you can keep the Jeep free of clutter (safety issue), and you can carry way more than you should be allowed in the trailer.

Steven Curren: I can say that I really like the Chaser and would recommend it to anyone who was thinking of owning one, the Jeep pulled it with ease and I was able to sleep at night on a mattress that was so good I got a full night’s sleep. Also I would like to say that dealing with Mario was a pleasure, he was concerned about me as a person as well as a customer and he has followed up with me to make sure that I am a satisfied customer, I sure am.

These trailers have some key features that make them viable for towing over tough trails: adjustable air suspension, 31”-37” tires to match your Jeep, and a long trailing arm. But they are more than just a big box on a high-clearance chassis: depending on the configuration, a trailer can sport a kitchen set-up that’s fired by propane, retractable awning, comfortable roof top tent, electric braked axle, 12-volt battery system, specialized and fully articulating coupler, refrigerator, storage for nearly 20 gallons of fresh water and extra fuel. Justin and Steve are impressed with the whole package.

Things have come a long way since that first trip I made with Russ and our beer-stained map. I’ve been asked what I think the perfect expedition vehicle is, since the Wrangler is so short on space. These days, though, I wouldn’t shy away from the Unlimited and the new 2007 4 door versions. While I’d love to get behind the wheel of a Commander for an expedition, the aftermarket racks, custom boxes, and trailers available for Wranglers sweetens the pot again for going out on multi-day ventures into the wild with the short wheelbase rag-top wonder.

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